By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — The original building of the second-oldest Catholic church in Iowa is undergoing renovation. St. Anthony Catholic Church was built in 1838 one year after its establishment as St. Anthony Parish and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Now referred to as St. Anthony School, the original structure served as a church on its second floor and housed the priest’s residence and Davenport’s first town hall/courthouse on the first floor. Later, the building served as a school until 1968 and then housed religious education and parish activities. The present church building was built in 1853 and received an addition in 1884.
“In recent years, the (original) building served as the ministry of presence for McAnthony Window as the window has pivoted to indoor dining in the winter months,” said John Cooper, the parish’s pastoral associate and business manager. “There is not enough space to support the number of people who utilize McAnthony Window.” Other activities take place in the building, including AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, personal finance classes, conscientiousness building and job coaching and some religious education for youths.
Renovation plans will not restore the building to its original state but a number of efforts will seek to recreate it, such as a painting of the church’s original altar. “We don’t have an actual photo. But we want people who visit to get a sense of the first church and to know where (the altar) would have been located and looked like,” Cooper said.
Interior work that starts in May will help the parish determine the extent of renovation, such as the decorative tin ceiling currently covered by drop-ceiling tiles. Among the projects intended to increase the building’s usefulness is opening up the first floor as one room. That would allow McAnthony Window patrons more space to eat in the winter. Currently, volunteers and staff have to ask patrons to eat and move along to make room for others who wish to eat inside. Movable walls will allow the room to be divided into smaller rooms for additional uses.
The second-floor remodel makes room for three religious education classrooms. Additional classes take place in the parish’s neighboring Grace Center. “We now have almost 200 students in our religious education classes, so we need more space,” Cooper said.
A new HAVC system, wiring, lighting, energy efficient windows and wiring for technology complete the renovation work.
Permastone, added in the 1940s, covers the building’s original brick exterior. “It was a soft brick that was made locally. If the church hadn’t decided to cover the exterior with permastone, then we wouldn’t have a building today. It preserved the building,” Cooper said.
Exterior work began earlier in 2023 and included elastomeric coating, patching deteriorated permastone and filling in micro cracks that separated from the original building. “Once we strengthen and seal the exterior, we will completely renovate the interior.” Parishioners Bill Ashton, a structural engineer, and Fred Ebeling, an architect, collaborated with the parish on the interior design, Cooper noted. Installation of a sprinkler system is one of the biggest expenses of the $800,000 project.
The building’s first floor will be named Hathaway Hall in honor of the late Dr. Alan and Peg Hathaway who left a large gift to McAnthony Window. That donation, along with grants from Quad Cities Community Foundation, Scott County Regional Authority, Davenport Development Authority, Bechtel Charitable Trust, and the parish’s share of diocesan capital campaign funds, have generated $500,000 toward the project, Cooper said. The parish is seeking contractors for interior renovations, with the goal to begin work May 1 and complete it by Oct. 1 in time for the new religious education year.
“This is a win for serving the poor and vulnerable and providing them with not just a hand out but hand up through the classes that we are going to be able to offer to them,” Cooper said. This project also is a “win for preserving diocesan Catholic history and city of Davenport history.”